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Site projects and feature requests (Dec. 22 edition)

Since our beta launch last week, our development staff has been trying to keep up with bugfixes and feature requests as quickly as possible. We’ve squashed a lot of bugs and added a number of new things, but there are still quite a few projects in process. Let me catch you up on what we’re working on - hopefully your feature request is already on this list!

  • A columnists page. We have our full staff list, but many readers have also asked about an easier way to find our columnists, and we can do that. I’m working on it right now, in fact.
  • A page that lists just the stories from the print edition, organized by section. We’ve also heard from a number of readers who liked browsing the online stories in the order they appeared in the print newspaper. We can do that too. You can give the print-edition-only list a try right here. There are links on all the daily news pages (i.e. Today), as well as in the navigation.
  • Timestamp and print page number listed on each story page.
  • The infamous SportsLink filters. On the old SportsLink blog, you could include/exclude certain types of posts based on your interests. This was a more popular feature than I thought! We’ll be working it into the new SportsLink too.
  • The “Latest Comments” list in our blog sidebars should list commenters by first/last name instead of just username.
  • The “Latest Comments” pages for each blog should list the title of the post each comment is from. That helps provide context when you’re looking at a lot of comments at once.
  • Also on our blogs, we’re nearly ready to enable customized sidebars, with blogrolls, link lists, and so on.
  • Increase character limit on comments to 4000, from 3000.
  • Provide an RSS feed of all comments on a blog, instead of just per-post comment feeds.
  • Provide an RSS feed of all stories, instead of just feeds by section.
  • Allow at least some HTML in comments, for bolding, italicizing, and so on. This is a security issue, but we’ll be looking into something that can work.
  • Bypass the premium filter when our own bloggers link to Spokesman.com stories. This was something we provided on the old website, and should be something we can put into this one too.
  • Move our Gonzaga Basketball and Cougar Basketball section pages from the old site into the new framework.
  • Profile pages are caching comment feeds, which means you sometimes see another user’s recent comments list on your profile page.
  • CSS styling for blockquotes. How did I miss that?!
  • Link to our photo reprints site from our photo cover.
  • Revise the Letters to the Editor cover page. Readers are asking for just a simple list of letters from today, with calendar navigation to any day.
  • Easier entry into our story archives, with calendar navigation.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, by any means. But I think it covers most of the things we know we still need to fix, and a number of suggestions that have come in from readers in the past several days that we haven’t gotten to yet.

Update: I’ll cross out the items we finish like this, and update you on progress on other projects.

Bugfixes for December 10

A big one here: Some new users on the site were unable to post comments. It turns out that users who hadn’t entered any name information (either a first name, last name, or both) were post and get to the comment preview screen, but their comments would never actually post. There wasn’t any visible error message either, making it all the more frustrating to anyone who was experiencing the problem. The good news: It’s fixed! Keep the feedback coming … and obviously this particular bugfix will make it easier for that to happen ;)

Welcome to the beta

If you’re reading this, well, you found us. We’re doing some internal testing this week on the new Spokesman.com, and should be ready to go public by next week. We’re well aware that no redesign is going to make everyone happy, but, if you’ll indulge, let me talk a bit about our process and goals.

The flagship site of a publication like The Spokesman-Review has to do a little bit of everything because, frankly, a huge portion of our readership expects it. People come to us for a ton of different things - from breaking news to sports recaps to crossword puzzles to calendars - and each person expects to be able to find what they’re looking for on our website. Over time, our original news site (spokesmanreview.com) added features and content areas we never anticipated. Many of these things were difficult to support with that site’s underlying technology, and many things we wanted to do were simply impossible. So what you see here isn’t a simple cosmetic redesign; it’s a complete overhaul of our web technology - from the servers to the database to the framework we’re building on.

We chose all these things because they give us a flexible platform that helps us build new things quickly. Yes, we need a flagship site with a little bit of everything, but we also want to give you smaller, more focused sites that inform our community, and help people who live here interact with each other. Sites that focus on one thing, and do it really well. That’s a *huge* part of where we need to go, but we have to have the basic building blocks in place first.

You’ll find plenty of signs of this philosophical shift as you spend some time here. Goal No. 1 was to clean things up and make the site easy to use, and the top-level navigation reflects a pretty fundamental move in that direction. Our print newspaper is organized into sections, which works great if you’re getting your information once a day. But that’s not the way people look for information online; hence the structure here, according to what content’s about, when it happened, where it happened, and what kind of media it needs. Ideally, this answers all the ways our readers might be looking for information. And it *should* be fairly seamless to switch between those systems of browsing - check out one of the day pages (here’s the Today page), click on the calendar icon to browse to any day in our archive, toggle among different media types, click on an item to view it, click on that item’s tags to see related content, and so on. We’re really hopeful that we’ve made navigation - and exploration - a LOT easier.

We’re also making multimedia much more visible. We’ve been producing amazing videos and photos for a long time, but our old website didn’t make them particularly easy to find. New sections on this site will help you browse the latest and best multimedia stories, no matter when you come looking. The cleaner design also makes the advertising that supports our site more visible and better-looking. It will help us integrate our news site with our jobs, homes and cars sites - no matter what you’re looking for, we want to help you find the most locally relevant information there is.

And we’re providing a lot more metadata about everything we publish. Tagging is the most obvious example (although the “Places” section is going to have some awesome geographical capabilities before long), and is the kind of thing that lets us power a bunch of cool stuff. Pages that quickly pull together content based on a topic (try everything tagged “Christmas”) are the simple stuff. There’s a lot more.

Here’s one of my favorite things: the Live Stream. It’s a tumblelog, if you’re familiar with those - a page that collects all the activity on the site, mixing in stories, multimedia, reader comments, everything. How’s it related to tagging? Well, in our database, each of those items in the live stream gets the same tags as the content it’s linking to. And that means that on my profile page I can “tag myself” with my favorite topics, and get a personalized news stream right there, filtering for exactly the type of content I’m interested in.

As we finish migrating from Spokesmanreview.com, features like these will only get more valuable. For now, anything you don’t find on the new site will still be accessible on the old site; we’ll run both in parallel for a while. And we have a ton more features planned. The framework we’re building on will let us start rolling out specialized sites, too - Down To Earth, for example — focused on local people, places and topics. Spokesman.com is the first step, and we know there will be bugs to work out and adjustments to be made.

So please, tell us what you think! Sign up for a site account and leave a comment, or shoot me an email. And we’ll use this space to talk with all of you about how we can do things better.

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The latest on features and projects by the Spokesman.com Web team.

Contributors

Ryan Pitts, Mike Tigas

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